I am not here to argue that the quality of Major League Soccer (MLS) in the USA is anywhere near the same level as the top flight in England, but one day, in the not too distant future it could be. More and more quality players are signing up for the American experience after David Beckham proved that it could be done successfully after leaving Real Madrid and Europe behind.
It may have been a quiet January in the transfer window in England, but the three biggest names to arrive have been from across the Atlantic. Landon Donovan’s return to Goodison Park has been met with joy on Merseyside and Robbie Keane snapped up the chance to play for his boyhood club Aston Villa for two months while the off-season continues in Los Angeles. Obviously you can’t forget Theirry Henry’s much publicised return to Arsenal, where he has already shown that he hasn’t lost any quality in sending the Gunners through to the FA Cup fourth round.
The quality of these players in not in question and although it is assumed that a player will only move to America at the end of their career, the national team are a young, improving side and players like Robbie Keane still have a good few years left in him yet and will represent Republic of Ireland in the Euro’s this summer.
David Beckham revealed last week that he expects to stay in Hollywood and sign a new contract after big spending PSG declared their interest. The likes of Tottenham Hotspur have also been publically interested in the former England captain in recent times and he is expected to be involved with team GB at this summers’ Olympic Games in London.
More well known, quality players that European clubs will no doubt want in their sides such as Rafael Marquez, Fredy Montero and Torsten Frings also grace the MLS and the likes of Dider Drogba, Allesandro Del Piero, David Bentley and Michael Ballack are heavily linked with a move there in the near future, so the quality is only going to increase as the sport grows in the States.
One problem that ‘soccer’ has had in the USA has been the supporters’ interest, as the likes of Baseball and American Football are huge all over the country and will take some beating. Fans are choosing to go with their more prestigious sports which is completely understandable but with attendances rising at ‘soccer’ games in the past 12 months, slowly but surely it can compete.
MLS games in 2011 averaged 17,870 fans per game in contrast to last year’s 16,675 per game. Take a look at Wigan Athletic in the Premier League if you want a comparison. The improvement in attendance has propelled the MLS to the third-most attended sport in the United States, placing it in front of the NBA (17,319 average) and the NHL (17,126). The MLS has also become the 10th most watched league in the world, above Brazil’s Serie A and the Scottish Premier League which can only be good news for the fans.
An improvement in quality, an improvement in funding and an improvement in support – the MLS is starting to have what it takes to compete with other sports in America and also top European Leagues and it may not be too long until matches between teams from the MLS and Europe become competitive.
Would you like to see the MLS become as big as the Premier League, let me know on Twitter: @Brad_Pinard